My elementary school teachers referred to today as Independence Day. My family called it the Fourth of July. Businesses closed for the day. Even then, the US flag with 48 white stars on a field of blue flanked by red and white stripes waved in the wind, or hung limp, on flagpoles depending on the presence or absence of a breeze. My family picnicked that day.
Our destination was random, usually beside a gentle river. The men fished. Ladies spread tablecloths while keeping a watchful eye on the children wading in the shallow water. Mothers were prepared with an iron skillet, cornmeal, and grease for a fish fry, but experience had taught them to be resourceful. About lunchtime with no sign of fish, they put fried chicken and potato salad on the colorful tablecloths. And, of course, a homemade birthday cake for my oldest brother’s youngest son. At home later that evening as darkness closed in, a few disobedient children in my neighborhood set off firecrackers. The rest of us waved lit sparklers with mothers chaperoning nearby.
One year, there was no family celebration. Among the many reasons, one of my married brothers owned a farm and another worked at a dairy. “We have to work,” they said. “Cows don’t take holidays.”
For several years, strangers have blocked my street at dusk, waiting for darkness. From tailgate parties to individuals in lawn chairs, they ate and drank and celebrated while waiting for the downtown fireworks to begin. Tonight my street is quiet. There will be no fireworks because of the coronavirus shelter-in-place order.
This morning, I thought of the cows when I tied red, white, and blue ribbons on my door beneath a computer-generated sign that proclaimed Happy Fourth of July. My own quiet celebration.